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The summer of 1958, when life was simple - yet awesome

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Kelly brothers, Patrick, Robert and Mikel (from left), pose on the diving board created by their dad in the summer of 1958.I know we’ve already had something like 85 days this year that were 90 degrees or above, but to this native Oregonian, summer is only just now really getting here. There are many reasons we think that, of course, not the least of which is the fact that some of us don’t venture into local streams until the water is so warm the fish are dying and washing up on our shores.

I know, I know — we’ve already seen on the news that dead fish have been washing up on the banks of the Willamette for weeks now, but I’m a skeptic. I figure it could be a trick.

As a matter of fact, I’m not sure REAL Oregonians are ever that nuts about getting wet, whatever time of the year it is.

We certainly don’t go into the ocean — on purpose, anyway. Statistics have proven that spending more than 30 seconds in the Pacific Ocean (anywhere north of Brookings, that is) can be fatal. Oh sure, the human body may be able to survive the actual temperature of the water, but the most common cause of fatality following contact with the ocean here is gasping to death.

But I digress. What I really wanted to do is reminisce about the four-day road trip around Oregon that my family took in 1958 that has survived to this day in Kelly Family History as the most awesome summer vacation ever.

OK, as far as any of us can remember, it was also the ONLY summer vacation road trip our family took, but that’s not the point.

I was 10 years old (on the verge of turning 11 that September), and my brothers Bob and Pat were three and four years younger, respectively, when we piled into our 1956 Plymouth station wagon loaded with camping gear and food. I don’t remember that we had extremely high expectations of this excursion, but for our mostly-empty little brains, it paid off in a huge way.Mikel Kelly

That summer we saw firsthand a dinosaur exhibit called Prehistoric Gardens near Port Orford, the redwoods of Northern California, the Oregon Caves National Monument, Diamond and Crater lakes, the lava beds along the McKenzie Highway (including a stone house with windows looking out on all the major peaks of the Cascades from Rainier to Shasta), the Oregon Vortex at Gold Hill (along with its “House of Mystery”), Peterson Rock Garden and a reindeer ranch (both near Redmond), the really, really cold upper Rogue River and a reptile farm outside of Bend.

A key to understanding the significance of this vacation is knowing that it was all undertaken under the leadership of my mom, the 4-foot-11, soft-spoken “brains of the outfit,” and my dad who, when I think back on it, more than anything resembled John Wayne’s character in “The Quiet Man.” He not only looked a lot like the Duke (with that way of bending his head down and staring at you with scary intensity), but he had the same self-righteous potential for anger that told everybody within swinging distance not to mess with him.

Mostly, we kids sat in the couch-sized back seat of the station wagon — not touching, of course — and trying like crazy not to attract the attention of the old people in the front seat.

There were never warnings, just action — like the time The Quiet Man reached into the back seat, grabbed the baking powder-fueled submarine my brothers and I were squabbling over and flung it out the window into a sheep pasture somewhere outside of Salem.

On the rare occasion when we DID pull into a drive-in burger joint — such as the Toot N Tell or the Chat N Chew (two of our faves in the Willamette Valley) — the old man would order “five hamburgers with fries and five cokes.” No hold the onions, extra mustard, any of that kind of foolishness. It wasn’t until I’d move away from home that I learned you could even make such special requests.

No, most of the time we had sandwiches and potato salad prepared by my mom in bulk, and which we washed down with Kool-Aid from a gallon jug (containing, as I recall, about 30 cups of sugar).

That summer we camped on most of our stops. The night in the redwoods was practically a spiritual experience, even for this untraveled 10-year-old. And we spent a thrilling night in Crater Lake National Park, where a bear wandered through the campground, looking for unsecured food, banging garbage can lids and tipping things over. For some time, whenever the opportunity presented itself, I referred to it as the night my family and I were almost killed.

We also came close to perishing the day we stopped at the reptile farm. The old lady giving us a tour of the place asked us if we wanted to see the cobra’s hood, and when we said “Do we!” she opened the door to its glass case and started poking it with a stick, causing the giant snake to raise its head and start striking at her, sometimes extending well outside of its confines.

A funny thing happened not too long after our historic car trip. About three months later, we were joined by a fourth Kelly boy — Casey. Apparently, my folks, knowing this was about to happen, decided on this trip as a final farewell to, well, life as we then knew it.

When the leaves began to fall, my mom went off to Albany — home of her own mother, not to mention her pediatrician — and didn’t come back until she had in her possession one more bundle of joy.

Because all of us kids were born in Albany, I assumed for years that ALL babies came from there, like maybe there was a Linn County baby factory or something. And how the little zygotes were made in the first place, well, parents who don’t tell you about dining options certainly don’t explain a mystery that big to mere children.

Mikel Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Pamplin Media Group. He plans to retire Sept. 4 and take more vacations.